The last weekend of July was the launch party of the new Chocolate Lounge on Clarendon Road. Owned by Chocablock Limited, they have moved to the swanky new Southsea store from their old shop in Copnor. As regular readers will know, I’m a big champion of new, independent local businesses, and though I visited The Chocolate Lounge twice over the weekend, I was disappointed.
The interior has a relaxing, atmospheric vibe with a mix ‘n’ match decor of union jacks, navy uniforms, Chesterfield sofas and US South-styled coasters and candle holders. Swing and jazz music welcomes you as you arrive, and on the left-hand side of the shop is a large bar filled with gins and chocolates.
On my first visit, I sat down on the sofas in an area signposted as ‘bullsh*&t corner’. On my second visit, on the Friday of the Chocolate Lounge’s main launch event, it was very busy but a member of staff found me some room at the back. I sat down and read the menu.
The menu was quite dirty with coffee stains and chocolate smears all over. The food options listed were fairly limited, with the bog standard sandwiches and jacket potatoes. The fillings included were similarly basic, such as cheese or coronation chicken. There wasn’t anything too exciting so I ignored the food and went straight for what really mattered here: the chocolate.
I was drawn to something called a ‘Chocolate Bomb’ so asked a member of staff what it was. She didn’t know, but asked someone else and came back to tell me it was a hot chocolate with a dollop of vanilla ice cream on top. Yes, please! I ordered one, but was wary of the price.
A normal hot chocolate in the Chocolate Lounge costs £3.40, and a Chocolate Bomb was £4.30. An extra 90p for a bit of ice cream seemed a bit extreme. Both drinks are the most expensive hot chocolates I have seen locally. Although I know that they are made with real chocolate, I recently visited Pie and Vinyl, where a hot chocolate made with real chocolate is only £2.90. With marshmallows.
To accompany my drink, I ordered a slab of chocolate cake, a Viennese whirl and two handmade chocolates. In a display cabinet, countless little chocolate cups of various flavours – from coconut to hazelnut to chilli – seemed to call to me. I ordered two: milk chocolate and strawberry champagne.
I noticed a range of milkshakes, cream teas and a ‘Hot Chocolate Devil’ on the menu, as I waited for my order to arrive. The latter is a hot chocolate with a shot of liqueur, such as Tia Maria. I was tempted, but didn’t think drinking at 1pm was a good idea.
I was surprised not to see as much chocolate on offer as I expected. From a place called ‘The Chocolate Lounge’ I expected more than just hot chocolates, a chocolate cake and some decorative chocolates; I’d expected maybe some themed chocolate pops or a chocolate fountain.
I made my suggestion to a member of staff I believed was the manager, who replied, bluntly, ‘No.’
I asked her what the plans were for the Chocolate Lounge, and what we could expect in the future.
‘We don’t want to just be about chocolate. We want to also be a bistro, restaurant, gin bar and a music venue.’
Given the name, I wondered if they aren’t missing a trick. I, and people I know, were keen to try the Chocolate Lounge precisely because of the unique selling point suggested by its name. With some tough competition from the growing number of cafes, bars and bistros in Southsea, the Chocolate Lounge may find it hard to stand out from the rest.
On the launch weekend, the Lounge had an action-packed programme, including live music and visits from local dignitaries. On Friday, Donna Jones cut the ribbon of The Chocolate Lounge and was interviewed with the owner, Michael Collins, which you can watch on their Facebook page. In the interview, Mr Collins addresses their plans to diversify, saying that some people have described it as ‘an identity crisis.’
‘I realised early on we had to diversify,’ he said, ‘not everyone likes chocolate, for a start. People will come in for all the reasons now: the music, cakes – which are all made here – and the bistro side, which hope to introduce in the next few weeks.’
I liked the interview as a marketing tool, which added a sense of grandeur and professionalism to the launch event.
On Saturday, the Lounge was visited by Penny Mordaunt, Conservative MP for Portsmouth North. I can understand wanting a local MP to visit your business on your launch weekend, but did find it odd that the MP for Portsmouth South, Labour’s Stephen Morgan, wasn’t invited, as this is where the new business is based. I messaged The Chocolate Lounge to ask about this but I am still awaiting their answer.
The cakes, chocolate and drink arrived. The cakes were £4.30 and the chocolates 90p each, which felt a little on the pricey side at first. However, given the chocolates were handmade, the cost could be justified by the craftsmanship. I ate the Strawberry Champagne chocolate cup first, but the champagne taste overpowered the strawberry and chocolate. I wasn’t a fan. The milk chocolate cup was creamy on the inside but I didn’t think it was anything special.
When I paid up, the waitress was exceptionally friendly and gave me the chocolates for free to celebrate their launch. I was very grateful and thanked her kindly before heading out into the pouring rain. But, before I went home, I wanted to check out one last thing.
Online, The Chocolate Lounge advertised themselves on Facebook as ‘Portsmouth’s only handmade chocolate shop’. I wasn’t too sure about this as another chocolate shop, Confiserie Verdonk, on Marmion Road, sells both loose and packaged chocolates, alongside chocolate novelty shapes.
I popped in to the Confiserie Verdonk and asked the woman behind the counter if their chocolates were handmade.
‘They are Belgian,’ she began, ‘and handcrafted is a better description. Some are made by hand but some aren’t. The ones here,’ she pointed to the individual chocolates, ‘are handmade but not on the premises. We source our chocolates from all over.’
She explained that it was also possible to buy chocolate shells separately, and make the filling yourself, which is sometimes the difference between the labels ‘handmade’ and ‘handcrafted’.
My brief research only made me realise that there are many ways a chocolate shop can source and/or make their wares. However, for chocolates made on the premises, the Chocolate Lounge would certainly seem to be Portsmouth’s only handmade chocolate shop.
Nonetheless, my first experience of the new Chocolate Lounge left me disappointed. Although I greatly enjoyed elements of the offer, like the Chocolate Bomb and Viennese Whirl, the pricing is higher than many other eateries in Southsea. I look forward to seeing the current menu expand as the Lounge prepare to launch their bistro offer, but secretly hope the chocolate-centric focus promised by their name isn’t lost along the way.
Overall, I’m keen to see what the Chocolate Lounge bring to the table in the near future. Until then, keep following the Southsea Food Tour to find the best places to eat in the area.
Photography by Emily Priest.